Food and the City

Caffé Beano owner Margie Gibb on coffee and conversation

Calgary is a city of coffee lovers, rich with talented baristas and roasters of premium beans, with cafes in every quadrant lined up for lattes on weekend mornings. But it wasn’t always that way. CBC's Julie Van Rosendaal takes a look.

'It was a steep learning curve — those first years I worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day'

Margie Gibb owns Caffé Beano just off 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Calgary is a city of coffee lovers, rich with talented baristas and roasters of premium beans, with cafes in every quadrant lined up for lattes on weekend mornings. 

But it wasn't always that way.

Caffé Beano owner Margie Gibb says 'People are on their phones too much. They need to sit here have a conversation – that’s what we do.' (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Caffé Beano was the second coffee shop to open in Calgary back in 1990 (the Roasterie in Kensington was the first in the mid-80s) by Janice Beaton, who has since moved on to focus on cheese at her shop next door.

In 1993, Janice sold Beano to Rhondda Siebens, who you'll still see at the coffee shop almost every day. In 2007, ownership transferred back to Janice and her new operating partner, Margie Gibb.

The two expanded the space, absorbing the small barber shop on the corner, before Margie bought Janice out in 2010.

She's been running the place ever since. 

Margie was a single mom of two when she moved to Calgary from Edmonton in the early '90s; she worked at the Cookbook Company as their director of catering before the opportunity arose to take over Beano.

Shift to coffee

"I always worked in food," Margie said. "But I had never worked in coffee. It was a steep learning curve — those first years I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, just to learn everything. Now I have a lot of gratitude for my amazing staff."

Fratello has been custom-roasting a Beano bean blend since the beginning, and they do all their own baking in-house. Every morning there are piles of cookies, muffins (including the hard-core molasses-bran that has its own small group of fans) and butter tarts, and a small menu that includes their famous meatloaf and breakfast sandwiches, made using locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible.

On a recent visit, on a weekend morning bustling with regulars, I found Margie fussing behind the counter as photographers set up photos for her new website, which has been in the works for years.

They aren't on Twitter ("It's not our thing," Margie says), and are just starting out on Instagram.

We believe in conversation

Although there is free wireless in the area, Margie shudders when I mention it — they've chosen to not offer wifi, even though the current trend is to hang out in coffee shops to work, text, or catch up on email.

"We believe in conversation," Margie says. "People are on their phones too much. They need to sit here have a conversation — that's what we do."

And yet the place is always packed.

They do cultivate connection at Beano, with a solid base of loyal regulars, including one coffee klatch that has been gathering there every morning for 22 years.

People from every generation

The patio has its own culture of dedicated patrons who hang out, European-style, reading books and newspapers on weekend mornings and afternoons — all day long when the weather turns warm and they're churning espresso milkshakes inside.

"I think what people love is the mix of people who come here," Margie said.

"People from every generation. It really is a cross-section of the Beltline — we get the homeless, and we get the Maseratis." 

A 'novel' space

It's also a popular poet hangout. They often have books of poetry for sale at Beano, and have collaborated on some with local writer Eugene Stickland.

"There are a lot of artists, photographers, writers. Eugene wrote his first novel here," Margie said.

"The Piano Teacher was written right here at Beano."

Their next project is going to be photo-driven, possibly postcard-style.

This year, Caffé Beano celebrates its 25th birthday. Margie is often asked if she'll expand Beano, but she always says no.

"I don't need that headache," she said. "I'm happy with my little corner of the world." 

Caffé Beano is located just off 17th Avenue at 1613 Ninth St. S.W., around the corner from FARM.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.


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